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In her tenure with Salt Lake County's two convention facilities, Allyson Jackson oversaw their use for the Winter Olympics and two dozen Outdoor Retailer markets along with consumer shows that attracted more than 2 million visitors.

Not a bad run for Jackson, whose 23-year stay in Utah ends next month, when she returns to her Georgia roots to manage the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

Like the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City and the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Jekyll Island is operated by Jackson's employer, SMG. Its involvement in running convention centers, sports stadiums and performing arts complexes started at the Louisiana Superdome in 1977.

"The decision to move back to Georgia was difficult and is genuinely bittersweet," said Jackson, 56. "It's a good time to go back to my hometown. This will be the last stop in my working career."

She first came to Salt Lake City in 1988 as a sales executive for Delta Air Lines. Ten years later, Jackson became director of sales and marketing for the Salt Palace and rose to general manager.

She handled community relations during the Salt Palace's 1999 expansion before turning her attention to site selection for South Towne, which opened a year later.

For the second Salt Palace expansion, which ran from 2004 to 2006, Jackson was the liaison between facility-owning Salt Lake County and the architectural design firm and general contractor.

"That was done on an incredibly aggressive timetable," she said, "a really awkward schedule" that required juggling large construction elements to avoid interrupting service to the Outdoor Retailer winter and summer trade shows, Salt Lake County's largest convention customer.

Jackson succeeded. "It was a matter of everybody understanding the goals," she said, "and making them happen."

Julie Freedman, operations manager for Outdoor Retailer, said Jackson "always had our backs. ... [Outdoor Retailer] is a very large show."

"Allyson would let us come into the building early because we needed more time to build it up for the show. She opened the doors and said, 'Come in. Let's get this started.' "

The 2002 Winter Games, when the Salt Palace was the Main Media Center for more than 9,000 journalists, was a highlight for Jackson.

"It was off the charts," she said, from the tension of security sweeps by Homeland Security, Secret Service and Army officers to the excitement of the judging scandal in pairs figure skating.

"All those skating press conferences were right in our building," Jackson said. "We were watching history. I would absolutely volunteer to do that again."

She also feels justified by the selection of Sandy as home to South Towne, which has drawn throngs to everything from auto and boat shows to the Festival of Trees and youth sports tournaments.

"Most people don't realize Sandy is pretty much in the middle when you look at population growth along the Wasatch Front," she said. "We might as well have shows for the public where people live."

Jackson is most pleased to leave behind a capable staff of 110 full-time and 150 part-time employees. "When I walk away, they won't miss a beat," she predicted. "I would put them up against any team in any building in the world."

Credit for that should go to Jackson, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. "Allyson is leaving a legacy that will benefit meetings, conventions and events coming to Salt Lake for years to come."

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